Interconnected

Books read February 2015

By date finished...

Somewhere in Bee (originally published 1937) I finally twigged that, for thousands upon thousands of years in the west, bees were the source of sweetness (no beet or sugar cane in Europe); booze because mead is made from honey and was invented before beer; and, using wax, candles.

Bees: Tasty food, entertainment, artificial light. That's quite a technology.

In German, animals "devour" (fressen) food, and they "perish" (crepien). Except for humans and bees, who instead eat (essen) and die (sterben).

And this: [the bee] is the only creature that has come to us unchanged from Paradise.

Coffee morning 6

Hardware-ish coffee morning was awesome today! Thank you for coming this HUGE CROWD of people: Tom T, Kirsty, Daniel, Gavin, Karey, Siri, Anna, Maximilian, Oliver, Sam, Tom W, Basil, Utku, Grace, Matt C-W, Aly, Mark, Mike, Reetta, Alex and Ben.

Here's a photo.

Lots of prototypes too... Fedelis which is like a physical key for smartphone touch screens, Radio Music which is a sample player that performs like an old-school radio, Ben's flood sensor for the Oxford Flood Network which is 1/100th the cost of existing ways of doing river sensing, and a sneak preview of Fabulous Beasts which is Alex's new game.

Phew! /breathes out

I had about a trillion conversations; my notebook is a blimmin mess.

Mark asked why are people interested in hardware at all? which I thought showed a certain casualness with tact given the gathering and besides, the hardware company he himself started is now eight years old and he's done a ton more too. Anyway, Marc Andreessen's essay Why Software Is Eating The World is probably a decent starting point on that topic, with Internet of Things technologies making much of the physical world tractable to the same software-based transformation. Grace said that maybe it didn't matter why, just the itch that founders have to chase hardware down is enough to make it interesting and worthwhile.

Then a good chat with Grace on the usual challenge: Any hardware company has to lock up a bunch of capital between the factory and the consumer's hands... inventory on shop shelves, stock, parts, pre-orders, factory tooling... and a startup has to pump prime that pipeline with cash. Working capital is a poor use of equity financing. Kickstarter's pretty good, but my feeling is that you should cut margin to the bone with crowdfunding: Using Kickstarter to build a buying community is infinitely more valuable. So are there other pump priming financing options? Don't know. Would like to think of some.

Oddest chat of the morning:

Karey revealed that the portfolio on her website offers Party Mode. Click the button at the bottom of the page, and mouse over the various projects -- the page becomes an instrument, it's like a synth! And then, I swear I heard this right, when you use Party Mode, there's an Arduino in her studio that plays the music.

ALL OF WHICH LED US TO the idea that all websites should have their live stats played like ambient electronica in offices. And that somehow got recorded in my notes as what if Brian Eno cosplayed Google Analytics.

So.

Oh yes, congratulations to Karey who is starting a new job with an Internet of Things company next week, bringing her funemployment to an end. And congratulations also to Sam who has just started with Little Riot who make Pillow Talk.

Next time

Coffee morning 7 will (probably) be three weeks from now, Thursday 19 March.

Join the coffee morning announce list for a reminder.

Thanks for coming everyone! Super good.

Filtered for myths and archetypes

1.

More on archaeoacoustics:

Currently, Russian and Finnish researchers are studying "palaeoacoustic" ringing rock sites on the shores of Lake Onega in Russia. They have found that the sound these natural stone "drums" make when struck is amplified by the surface of the lake, causing it to carry for kilometres around. The features are surrounded by concentrations of rock art.

So what gets me here is that the marks - the visual human intervention - the art - is a sign that there is something here that we can't see: In this case, a natural megaphone for rhythm.

From the same article:

The Native American tribes of the Great Lake region believed that a spirit world existed behind rock surfaces, which were conceived of as being like "membranes" between that world and this. ... their shamans could penetrate through cracks and crevices in the rock-face into the spirit world beyond, and also that spirits could pass through from behind it into the human world.

2.

Sipapu is a Hopi word which refers to a small hole or indentation in the floor of kivas used by the ancient Pueblo peoples and modern-day Puebloans. It symbolizes the portal through which their ancient ancestors first emerged to enter the present world.

I saw these when I visited Mesa Verde a year or two back... funny having grown up in the west and seeing crucifixes everywhere as the dominant symbol: also the x-y axes of Cartesian space, that in the west we measure and situate our [world, values, selves] inside a shared and objective universe; also in Riddley Walker the Christ figure is conflated with Adam-the-first-man and Atom-which-is-split, arms out wide, being torn apart. Then to see an alternative symbol, an indentation, sipapu.

For the ancient Pueblo peoples, the sipapu - the place of emergence - is somewhere near the Grand Canyon: their ancestors emerged from the Third World through a crack, into this, the Fourth World, in a place known as Sipapu.

3.

Tales from Ovid: 24 Passages from the Metamorphoses, the magical translation by Ted Hughes.

I mean, read this.

Last comes the Age of Iron.
And the day of Evil dawns.
Modesty,
Loyalty,
Truth,
Go up like a mist - a morning sigh off a graveyard.

Snares, tricks, plots come hurrying
Out of their dens in the atom.
Violence is an extrapolation
Of the cutting edge
Into the orbit of the smile.
Now comes the love of gain - a new god
Made out of the shadow
Of all the others. A god who peers
Grinning from the roots of the eye-teeth.

Now sails bulged and the cordage cracked
In winds that still bewildered the pilots.
And the long trucks of trees
That had never shifted in their lives
From some mountain fastness
Leapt in their coffins
From wavetop to wavetop,
Them out over the rim of the unknown.

Wow.

In Our Time episode on Metamorphosis.

Now I am ready to tell how bodies are changed/ Into different bodies.

4.

Ley lines and associated topics.

But why straight lines? Dobkin de Rios suspected that they derived from the entoptic patterning that occurs in the human cortex early in trance states as a result of poorly-understood neurophysiological mechanisms. These entoptic ("within vision") images are universal to the whole human race in all periods of time, and adhere to a specific range of "form constants" - grids, dots, webs, spirals and tunnel forms, arabesques, nested curves, lines, and so on.

And from Michael Witzel's origins and dispersal of our first mythologies,

Archetypes are those psychic contents that have not yet been submitted to conscious elaboration. Myth is the secondary elaboration of archetypes. Their images are embedded in a comprehensive system of thought that ascribes an order to the world. Common archetypes include the (great) Mother, the Father, the Hero, the Miraculous Child, the Wise woman, the Shadow. Since they are generally human, they can turn up everywhere and anytime in dreams, visions and myths.

This Laurasian approach suggests that there is a coherent mythology (with a common story line) for much of Eurasia, North Africa and the Americas.

Encompassing:

the ultimate of origins of the universe and the world, subsequent generations of the gods, an age of semi-divine heroes, the emergence of humans, and the origins of "royal" lineages. It frequently includes a violent end to our present world, sometimes with the hope for a new world emerging out of the ashes. Ultimately, the universe is seen as a living body, in analogy to the human one: it is born from primordial incest, grows, develops, comes of age, and has to undergo decay and death

So. Yeah.

Filtered for listening

1.

Artificial skylight that uses the same physics behind the sky being blue to create a blue sky.

Comes in a variety of models e.g. For enthusiasts of Nordic countries, CoeLux 30 is available, with a 30 degree angle beam relative to the horizon. It is a wall window and is capable of reproducing a warm, grazing light.

2.

Archaeoacoustics, including this playful idea:

[A] trowel, like any flat plate, must vibrate in response to sound: thus, drawn over the wet surface by the singing plasterer, it must emboss a gramophone-type recording of his song in the plaster. Once the surface is dry, it may be played back.

Not true, but fun to believe this: He claimed to have extracted ... the word "blue" from an analysis of patch of blue color in a painting.

Also, reproducing the sound of drums in Stonehenge.

Also, extracting sounds from pictures of gramophone records in books.

Also, the ghost between the original recording of Suzanne Vega and an MP3.

3.

Sci-fi books upcoming for 2015.

  1. Seveneves by Neal Stephenson (May): The world is ending, and the human race makes a desperate effort to get some survivors off the planet. Five thousand years later, the descendants of humanity are divided into seven different races, all of which decide to pay a visit to the old homeworld.
  2. Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson (July): A generation ship novel! Robinson returns to the future after a sojourn in the distant past, and tells the story of the first ever arduous journey to another solar system.

4.

In the Qur'an, Solomon understands the language of the ants.

Until, when they came upon the valley of the ants, an ant said, "O ants, enter your dwellings that you not be crushed by Solomon and his soldiers while they perceive not."

So [Solomon] smiled, amused at her speech, and said [...]

Coffee morning six

Hey, let's have another hardware-ish coffee morning!

Thursday 26th February, 9.30am for a couple of hours, at the Book Club (100 Leonard St).

Do come! Usual game... zero structure, just a few like-minded people having coffee with a vague "making things" skew. There might be two of us, there might be ten. Probably somewhere in-between.

I think, if we're lucky, that one person who's going to come will bring their as-yet unreleased hardware prototype. That's what they've promised me anyhow.

All welcome, it would be lovely to see you :)

(For a reminder, join the coffee morning announce list.)

Birthdays

One of my earliest memories is my 4th birthday, or at least I'd always thought so till about 5 minutes ago. I used to remember it vividly: We'd moved into the new family house just about a month before, we're in the room with the heavy wooden furniture, my cake is on the big wood table and I blow the candles out. Now I can remember once having the vivid memory, but somewhere along the line the direct memory has faded.

But did we have furniture only a few weeks after moving in? It was imported, I know that much -- there's a story about the van carrying the cabinets and chairs and whatnot, charging off the ferry onto the land in a storm, catching the instant where the ramp is touching the jetty. So the timing doesn't add up for me. Maybe it was my fifth birthday or my sixth.

It's a happy memory, that birthday - my 4th or 5th or 6th - because I remember being delighted, and my family are there, and (maybe?) I was being picked up to blow out the candles, and (even more maybe?) my nan was there -- I mean, seriously, who knows.

So I carry all these different types of memories all bundled up: vivid ones, emotional impressions that anchor me to family, ones that might be literally true and others that are at least true in spirit, stories about ferries that I was never there for but none-the-less there they are, memories of memories. Things that happened yesterday, this morning, ten years ago, when I was ten, a memory - maybe - and I'm reaching here - a shock-wave backwards in time of what I'll do in 10 minutes, 10 weeks, 10 years: again, maybe true, maybe only true in spirit. All part of me.

I find that a hopeful picture, because it gives the idea of "memory" a broad reach, and I get to include the memories and stories that probably started elsewhere: my family, my friends, my pets, my books; all together, more or less, all alive, to a greater or lesser extent, in me.

Here's me as a little boy.

That's my school t-shirt, my guess is we're in Kenya -- so I must be 6? Do I look 6? We went to Kenya when I was 6. I'm wearing my dad's expression, which is lovely to see.

37 today!

Once more around the sun, though not closing loops because the sun itself moves. So we carve a helix on the cosmos. Lives, screwed into spacetime.

Filtered for SAAS

1.

SAAS = Software as a Service. History. Common biz model now: Software is no longer sold like retail, it's sold like subscriptions.

A good rule of thumb for SAAS startups: the 40% rule. Your annual revenue growth rate + your operating margin should equal 40%

So, if you are growing 100% year over year, you can lose money at a rate of 60% of your revenues

If you are growing 40% year over year, you should be breaking even

The idea being that it makes sense to spend money for growth.

It wasn't always accepted that you could charge money for software. Bill Gates cemented the idea of software=property in his 1976 Open Letter to Hobbyists. Jim Warren's response that same year:

There is a viable alternative to the problems raised by Bill Gates in his irate letter to computer hobbyists concerning "ripping off" software. When software is free, or so inexpensive that it's easier to pay for it than to duplicate it, then it won't be "stolen".

SAAS shows a viable alternative to that viable alternative: You don't need to cut prices. You make duplication impossible (you don't ship source code when you host the servers) and distribution trivial (just punch in your credit card).

2.

Getting going as a SAAS company is tough. Getting the first few clients is scrappy, especially because their expectations aren't yet set. Formal work orders help nail this down.

The Y Combinator Sales Template Agreement is excellent -- the first page is a box-filling exercise which helps you think about what you're selling. Service fees, initial term, one-off implementation fee, pilot limitations.

After the scrappy stage: what product/market fit looks like for SAAS.

It's something like $100k MRR (monthly recurring revenue) and 10% month-on-month growth.

Before that, Do not pour on the gas at this point.

I'm trying to remember who described Series A financing to me like this... they said: You're Series A ready when you've found a lever that costs you one quid to pull and when you pull it, two quid drops out.

That's when you pour on the gas!

The lever is product/market fit. You've discovered the product, you've found who wants it, and you've got the sales machine to sell it.

3.

Systematizing Sales With Software And Processes: How to move upmarket from a low-touch sales SaaS into a more rigorous sales process, without losing your sanity.

Fantastic insights; great resource. Medium touch.

Lightweight tools to run a sales pipeline include Close.io and Pipedrive.

For low-touch or a more B2C model, a good user growth pipeline is: Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, Revenue.

Comprehensive resource on how to use emails for user growth.

More about that growth pipeline aka the pirate metrics, because the acronym is AARRR.

4.

So I'm thinking about SAAS for three reasons.

  1. I didn't do this well myself, and I didn't know what I didn't know. I know the consultancy model inside-out, but how a SAAS startup works? I was all at sea.
  2. I know a bunch of super early SAAS startups now, and this is what the world will look like when they scale up. Given that, it's possible to make some decisions: e.g. keep the early sales pipeline short so it's easier to iterate the process automation.
  3. I'm particularly interested in hardware startups, and just as SAAS was a step beyond the retail model for software, maybe there's a recurring revenue model for hardware.

On that last point, I know the team at Winnow. Winnow is working with kitchens small and large to tackle food waste.

It's a web-connected weigh-scale that sits under the bin in commercial kitchens, and a subscription to their service that has led to waste reductions of 30% to 70% by value. Easy ROI for customers.

Hardware + recurring revenue. Neat.

See also: In the smart home, SmartThings is introducing a premium subscription service. Samsung says the service will enable SmartThings to automatically send users or other contacts a text when it detects a problem in the house, such as a flood or fire.

It's necessary...

Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn) says:

a really great idea ends up with three innovations -- product service, product distribution, and revenue model

LinkedIn was a product service innovation. But it also innovated in distribution: Users invited their contacts, so it traversed the social networks and spread without ad spend. And revenue, LinkedIn made freemium work.

In the hardware world, I see a ton of great products from startups. BUT:

Everyone's still experimenting with revenue... 30% product margin won't cut it, and that's why Winnow is interesting. And distribution hasn't been cracked: Physical stuff has such a tough challenge with virality compared with, say, apps... it's hard to hear about and hard to buy. Still looking for good examples of hardware startups innovating there.

What's the SAAS flip for hardware?

Parish notices

No coffee morning this week... busy busy busy. I'm Entrepreneur in Residence at Techstars London, and the Winter 2014 cohort is gearing up for its Demo Day on Friday. It's a cross between a massive pitch (several hundred investors will be there) and a debutante ball. So all the startups are doing a ton of prep - they get 5 minutes each - I'm helping out where I can.

Next coffee morning (what it is) will be next Thurs, Feb 26.

Get this blog by email

Looking at my stats, more people click through from Dan Hon's email newsletter than any of the (high profile!) blogs or Twitter accounts that have also linked here from time to time.

It's pretty clear that mobile browsing is broken for idle reading and following trails, and that - for the moment at least - people enjoy email instead.

So I've set up Interconnected-by-email. Subscribe here to get the latest posts in your inbox. Dispatches made at 11pm London time.

Filtered for relationships

1.

The Guardian's Watch Me Date.

Each week, we've chosen two different people, given them two pairs of Google Glass and packed them off on a date (there is usually a lot of alcohol involved too). Filming begins the minute they meet, and that off-button is only pressed once they've said goodbye.

2.

How to lose weight in 4 easy steps via @kottke who says Step 3 is difficult but really works.

3.

This quote: You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

Normalisation and caring. Obesity... people are 57 percent more likely to be overweight if they had a friend who became obese. And:

If John thought that Steve was his best friend and John gained weight, Steve would gain weight too. But if John didn't think Steve was his best friend (just a friend), John was less likely to gain weight if Steve gained weight. It seems, the more you feel connected to someone else the more his or her behaviors affect you.

4.

Invisible Boyfriend gives you real-world and social proof that you're in a relationship - even if you're not - so you can get back to living life on your own terms.

In beta at $24.99/month.

The back-end is interesting. Your non-existent virtual partner is a swarm of fractional micro-boyfriends. Deets:

The service's texting operation is powered by CrowdSource, a St. Louis-based tech company that manages 200,000 remote, microtask-focused workers. When I send a text to the Ryan number saved in my phone, the message routes through Invisible Boyfriend, where it's anonymized and assigned to some Amazon Turk or Fivrr freelancer. He (or she) gets a couple of cents to respond. [...] "That rapport you feel with Ryan may actually be six or seven Ryans," Homann explains.

Filtered for Muybridge and Moorcock

1.

Old school smart home:

Your microwave just heated a lasagna.

Record: You just stared out of the window for 23 minutes. [Ok] [post your score]

Your couch likes your microwave's status update.

It's raining again. [Ok]

Also, not the same, but: Ranjit Bhatnagar says I plugged a little light sensor into an amplifier to hear invisible light modulation. One of my LED candles had a surprise. Watch the video, it plays a little tune.

Sallie Gardner at a Gallop is a series of photographs consisting of a galloping horse, the result of a photographic experiment by Eadweard Muybridge on June 15, 1878.

Because:

The purpose of the shoot was to determine whether a galloping horse ever lifts all four feet completely off the ground during the gait; at this speed, the human eye cannot break down the action.

Muybridge used his photographic technique like a microscope on time -- to see motion previously too quick to catch.

Everything speaks.

2.

Michael Moorcock: How to write an adventure model in three days.

Formula, structure, using what's on hand: Really, it's just looking around the room, looking at ordinary objects and turning them into what you need. A mirror: a mirror that absorbs the souls of the damned.

Moorcock is a legend.

3.

Do Things That Don't Scale, by Paul Graham.

Actually startups take off because the founders make them take off. There may be a handful that just grew by themselves, but usually it takes some sort of push to get them going. A good metaphor would be the cranks that car engines had before they got electric starters. Once the engine was going, it would keep going, but there was a separate and laborious process to get it going.

Great article.

The startup worldview. I mean: it's effective at newness, yes, and I am pro progress. The underlying value resonates with me: The world is a do-ocracy and you can make your stamp by doing. That wasn't always the case, authority-by-history has been dominant for so long.

BUT (a) what can't be reached by this worldview? A whole bunch, probably. But actually I think it would be productive to point startups at a much wider variety of problems. Case in point, Bethnal Green Ventures and "tech for good."

BUT (b). The mode of coordination of all these small enterprises is to share a language and share a way of being in the world. It can feel a bit paint-by-numbers sometimes, and that's fine... except that worldviews are like the Catholic church in medieval Europe, and Silicon Valley is our Rome.

A double-edged sword, if your native culture is not Roman.

Then I remember Moorcock, who painted by numbers, but truly was a fucking legend for all time, who wrote books you can inhale and - by force of will and a community of like-minded geniuses - created a new and truly British science fiction, one that changed everything.

4.

A few weeks ago, I got the "call for talks" email from OpenTech 2015 -- it's in June, it's the 10th edition.

The email said: The main thing we're looking for are the things we don't know to look for.

And then they linked to Phil Gyford's list, trying to imagine a tech conference that would embody an alternative viewpoint.

  • Different models for start-ups. Co-operatives. Employee ownership. Normal, slowly-growing, profit-making businesses.
  • Ruricomp - technology for people who don't live in cities.

Makes me think: My notes on City Link and a new class of worker.

Makes me think: indie.vc, A program, network and funding mechanism for founders looking to start and scale independent businesses with positive cash flow. A different kind of deal.

A note

I started writing these "filtered" posts because of Michael Sippey:

I used to blog; I haven't in a while. I miss it. So this is trying something new, without the daily pressure of a capital B Blog, or the content pressure of a the capital E Essay. Start a new draft post on Monday, dump things in it over the week, rewrite and cull along the way, what's left gets published on Friday. Let's see how long I keep this up.

So that's what got me going, because I was having difficulty finding my voice. Then there's Nat's four short links which he does daily.

But let's be clear... this is all about me: What I get out of this is that somehow, by typing, four unrelated things that have caught my eye sometimes show signs of coherence. I get glimpses of the gestalt. So that's why I type.